Monday, January 2, 2017

Giving keto a shot

I had a checkup recently. My blood work came back with high triglycerides. My doctor suggested a low carb diet to avoid the looming threat of pre-diabetes. 

The majority of my problem on that front is my caffeine delivery vehicle of choice: coke zero. So I cut the coke zero out (drinking coffee instead) and that hurdle is handled. Now to slim my waistline. I don't really eat many sweets... but my diet is carb heavy. I'm pretty fat as a result. 

I know various people who are on paleo, Atkins, and a variety of other low carb diets. A lot of their meal-prep time seems to be invested in finding substitutions for "the real thing" and then there is dancing around beer and alcohol. I know if I can have any amount of carbs, I'll invest it into pizza. Really, I would be happiest eating pizza for every meal for the rest of my life.

So I can't allow myself a system that has room to be gamed for junk food allowance. Enter Keto, a diet around training your body to process fat as fuel by denying it carbohydrates entirely.

I first heard of keto via The Security Now Podcast. It was an off-topic episode, so I didn't pay particular attention to it. I have issues with some of the intellectual shortcuts Steve Gibson takes, but on the whole I think he's a pretty intelligent guy and worth listening to. Other tech-savvy folks started talking about it, referring to a ketogenic diet as "body hacking" or "bio hacking." At the time I wasn't ready to listen; I was a calories in, calories out kind of guy. 

I had middling success with CICO. Some months I'd be down 10lbs, others I'd be up 10lbs. It was a lot of effort to even approach my personal goal weight; and it seems impossible to reach an average BMI with that strategy. After several years I finally had enough. Reddit was praising keto. Every tech person I respect as an intellectual is either keto of some flavor of vegetarian (or unknown, to be fair to Bill Gates, Satoshi, and Elon Musk). I can't do vegetarian... I understand the ethical appeal of it, but asking me to part with meat is like asking me to cut off a limb. Sorry livestock, if you didn't want to be eaten you shouldn't have been so tasty and easy to domesticate. When we can affordably grow your muscles in a vat I'll switch to that.

So, what is keto? It's a low carb, high fat diet. The idea is to train your body to use animal fat (or fat in general, apparently the same mechanism does the work) as it's primary fuel source by denying it access to it's typical primary. The digestive system goes for carbs, then proteins, then fat. When you're trying to burn fat other fuel sources get in the way. 

So here's the downside: If your body burns fat as a last resort, that means you have to trigger "starvation mode" to burn fat...or exercise so much that your body has to turn to fat to function. I wish I had the time and discipline to do the latter, but I don't. Starvation mode kicks off all sorts of unpleasantness normally. Lower overall energy, moodiness, insatiable hunger that leads to poor eating decisions... it's a problem. The keto diet sidesteps this by providing your body with food... it's just food that it has to learn to process. 

There might be drawbacks to doing keto long term. Dr. Steven Novella (neurologist) warns that ketosis can produce metabolic acidosis which leads to headaches, stomachaches, joint pain, and other issues. His overall concern is that long term weight loss cannot be achieved through short term strategies. 

So, this is my long term strategy. I've demonstrated that I can maintain my weight (within margin) over long terms by watching what I eat and casual exercise. I've demonstrated that I have difficulties reducing my weight via these means, mostly because I feel I've room to "game the system" and I'm pressed for time/willpower to add exercise. So, I will put in place a set of rules that I cannot game for the medium term (6-12 months) in a play to decrease my weight and triglyceride levels. After the allotted time, I will slowly reintroduce carbohydrates into my diet. Maybe I get a slice of pizza on a date, or I make chili. As I make these small changes, I watch the effects on my weight (see yesterday's post Quantifying Myself). Once I am confident I'm at a level I can maintain, I return to Calories In Calories Out. 

I'm touching base with my doctor every three months. I am monitoring my ketosis levels every other day. If you're thinking about trying keto or any other diet, talk to your doctor. I'm just a dummy on the internet; I don't know how bodies work. I'ma try this thing to see if it helps me. Don't let me tell you how to live your life.